La Darbia blog

STRESA, THE PEARL OF LAKE MAGGIORE

Wed, 16 August 2017
STRESA, THE PEARL OF LAKE MAGGIORE
Relaxation and charm await you in Stresa, regal witness to the grandeur of former days While the waiter serves me a hot cappuccino with a freshly baked croissant, I observe the wharf which is becoming lively: Stresa is blessed by sunshine this morning, the water of the lake glitters while little g..

Relaxation and charm await you in Stresa, regal witness to the grandeur of former days

While the waiter serves me a hot cappuccino with a freshly baked croissant, I observe the wharf which is becoming lively: Stresa is blessed by sunshine this morning, the water of the lake glitters while little groups of tourists await the boats for the Borromee islands and the Hotel and Catering students, clad in their smart, neat uniforms, hurry along the street. In the crisp morning air there are many people jogging up and down the lakeside promenade, lined with flowering plants and directly across the road from the Liberty style glass windows of the highly prestigious hotels.

The spectacle of the three Borromee islands as they emerge on the water is always stunning: they were once inhabited only by fishermen but later, in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds, became princely places of residence with the construction of glitzy mansions and magnificent gardens. Isola Bella, the most aristocratic and luxurious, hosts an impressive Baroque palace surrounded by an elaborate garden in the Italian tradition; human intervention reshaped the nature of the island so that its profile now looks like the bow of a ship.

What seduces visitors to Isola Madre is the exotic atmosphere of the enormous park and its lush vegetation, whereas Isola Pescatori has held onto its natural aspect and exudes a distinctive charm with its characteristic little shops, artists' ateliers and fish resturants.

Stresa is a town to be explored at ease, to be admired and savoured in order to absorb its elegant refinement and international atmospher suspended somewhere between past and future. Throughout the eighteen hundreds, especially during the period of the so-called Grand Tour, the elegant hotels on the lake hosted famous members of the jet set and acclaimed intellectuals who sojourned here on their travels across Europe, Stendhal, Lord Byron and Charles Dickens included. Ernest Hemingway also spent a long time on the shores of Lake Maggiore after his leg was badly injured during the First World War. To this day the most prestigious suite at the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromées is named after the same celebrated American writer, who stayed in Room 106 where he wrote “Farewell to Arms”, one of his most famous novels.

Perhaps Hemingway would nowadays be seen sipping an aperitif at the Sky Bar in Hotel La Palma, a sophisticated venue with a panoramic terrace and excellent cocktails, or alternatively he might be found entranced at the magical evening performances organized as part of the Settimane Musicali, an important yearly festival of classical and jazz concerts featuring artists of international fame and dating back to the early ninteen sixties.

There are several other places of interest in Stresa, such as Villa Pallavicino with its immense park full of century-old trees and a delightful zoo, particularly popular among children. Another enjoyable option would be to take the cable car which runs from Carciano to Mottarone, stopping at Giardino Alpinia, a wonderful Botanical Garden with a stunning panoramic view over the Verbano district.

The historical centre of Stresa, with its lanes and typical Italian restaurants or trattorias, is also very distinctive and attractive: as I was strolling around I came across the colourful stalls of the weekly market, which takes place every Friday morning in Piazza Capucci, so I took the opportunity to purchase a few things. Before going back to La Darbia, I decided to pop into a Pastry Shop to get some of those delicious Margheritine, soft shortbread biscuits created by the baker Bolongaro for Margherita of Savoia, later to become Queen of Italy, who used to sojourn at length in the beautiful Villa Ducale.

The noble charm of Stresa has been preserved intact over time, like an antique jewel to be admired, a precious pearl illuminating the lake.

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